Every day, I look in the mirror and am not sure I know the man looking back at me. He looks familiar. But his hair is grayer than I remember, his beard white instead of brown, the face a bit fleshier and showing some lines.
The man I see is older than I expect — 51. I’m not sure I know him.
When I close my eyes, I see the man I know.
He’s in his mid-20s, hair dark, much trimmer than the man I see in the mirror. He has more of a bounce to his step. Not that the man in the mirror doesn’t have dreams, because clearly he still does, and not that the man in the mirror doesn’t have many blessings, because most certainly he does.
It’s just that the guy I see with my eyes closed has no idea what his future holds. Frankly, he’s clueless. So he’s excited. Anything feels possible. He is in love with a woman and his God and, indeed, is in love with his hopes for life. There is a giddiness to this love, a feeling that nothing can go wrong, a confidence that everything he wants to happen truly will happen.
When I close my eyes, there is the woman that younger guy loves. She’s in her early 20s, filled with the same youthful hope and energy the guy feels. All she wanted to do was love her young husband, their young family, her friends, this exciting world. And love was enough.
Funny thing is, when I open my eyes today and look at Donna, my wife, she looks the same. She still is that young wife and mother. There are many miles now on our marriage, and we have made mistakes. Our love has been tested; I have failed many of those tests. In many ways, love is enough.
I close my eyes and see my parents. They still are in their 40s, not their 70s. Strong and vibrant, with a long stretch of life in front of them. I see the young men who were my buddies in high school and college, able to stay up all night, with no idea what plans the world has for them. I see my best friend, our relationship still somewhat new yet already showing a unique connection and resilience. I see myself and my family sitting in church every Sunday morning, in the front pews, surrounded by people who came to God with needs and gratitude — people whom I rarely see now when I open my eyes.
I close my eyes and see my four children. I don’t just see them. I can feel them. They are infants in my arms, toddlers on my lap, raucous grade-schoolers in my mini-van.
I close my eyes and vividly see the moment like it is happening right now. I’m rocking each of them to sleep at night, reading from a special book, singing the words from one of the pages: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I am living, my baby you’ll be.”
For my children’s younger years, I usually worked deep into the night at my job. When I arrived home well past bedtime, I would go to each of their bedrooms, stand at the doorway and hold my hand over them to offer a blessing. And from the day they each were born, I gave them to God. I understood they really belonged to Him anyway, that my only calling was to care for them as best as I could while we were together on earth.
I look at that man in the mirror and there is a little something that I actually do recognize. It’s in the eyes. The light of a memory, the hint of some wisdom, the joy of distinct gratitude. The love — for wife and children, for family and friends, for dreams and God — remains powerfully evident.
Time flows so quickly. I sat on the couch one evening last month and looked at my 22-year-old daughter, Kara, as she lay trying to sleep. She had undergone some surgery and looks ahead at a potentially difficult medical fate. She also has been planning her April 2014 wedding — her young life at once filled with joy and pain.
I gazed at her and saw my baby. I wanted to read to her and sing to her and promise her that everything would be all right, that dreams and excitement and hope are to be embraced, that even if there are detours and plans get changed, it will be all right because from the day she was born, she was safely in God’s hands.
We can’t always see it. And yet — there’s something about the eyes.
This article originally appeared in the St Louis Review and is used with permission.